SOCIAL ANIMATION UNIT
Primary Staff: Fr B.T. Sarath Iddamalgoda, Diocesan Priest.
The Social Animation Unit at Tulana grew out of two main founding experiences of the Tulana Research Centre. Initially it was Fr. Aloysius Pieris’ first-hand experience of the Marxist inspired insurrection of rural Buddhist youth in 1971. His response to the aspirations of these Buddhist youth of Sri Lanka entered the decision-making process to found Tulana and the choice of its location. These youth also became the main target-group of many activities and seminars. But since 1977, this concern was coupled with the need to address the nation’s Sinhala / Tamil ethnic issue in the conscientization programmes at Tulana, meant mostly for Sinhala youth.
The “Francois Houtart Seminar” on the Tools of Social Analysis, at Lewella, in 1975, in which Fr Aloy was an invited participant, equipped him with a much needed skill to analyse the national (and global) situation and conscientize students, workers, trade unionists, not to mention young religious and priests about the worsening “National Question” ( i.e. the ethnic issue). Thus ‘awareness programmes’ which enlightened group after group of Sinhala youth about the Tamil agitation for justice and rights, soon became a significant part of the mission of Tulana. The ethnic issue gradually became a major concern (since 1977) to be addressed in the work-shops conducted at Tulana.
Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda, on his return from his post-graduate studies at the London School of Economics, UK, joined the Tulana community in 1990. He resumed his former work of social animation and awareness programmes, making Tulana his base and his home. Initially the main focus of his activities was collaborating with two grass-roots activist peoples’ groups – the JANAWABODYA KENDRAYA (founded in the 1980’s) and the SHRAMABIMANI KENDRAYA (founded in the 1990’s) in the Negombo / Katunayake areas of the Western Province. The former group works mainly with the marginalized and landless fisher folk while the latter group focused on the rights and needs of workers in the Free Trade Zone, mainly the migrant young women workers from rural parts of the island.
Fr. Sarath’s collaborative works with these groups and others, includes alleviating the plight of landless peasants and fisherfolk, joining in the struggles for labour rights in the Free Trade Zones and other State and private commercial establishments, campaigning against environmental destruction, joining the peace and justice campaigns with the peoples of the North, East and Central provinces, being alongside the people in their agitations and protests against State power, corruption, injustices, and in the recent past working with the displaced and families of the disappeared after the end of the civil war in 2009 and campaigning for changes in Sri Lanka’s governance to end the drift towards militarization and totalitarianism.
Fr. Sarath is also closely involved with the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM) which was formed to be a platform for various groups who are working in isolation on the national problem. It is an ecumenical group with Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists actively involved. Religious men and women from various congregations, and diocesan priests and lay people are deeply committed to the activities organized by the CSM.
Animating the Shramabimani Kendraya to organize and educate the marginalized communities in the area of Jaela, Seeduwa, Katunayaka and Katana about issues concerning flooding, community health needs and lack of income, and animating citizens’ group, whose main concerns are the industrial pollution of their drinking water and the environment.
Assisting Shramabimani to conduct the exposure programme for a group of nuns from the Aquinas College, who spend about 4-5 days every year at the Shramabimani centre.
Assisting the students of the Asian Institute of Theology programme who spend two months in Katunayaka with Shramabimani on an exposure programme.
Joins the protest organized by the Solidarity Committee of the FTZ of which Shramabimani is an active member, to demand justice to the workers injured as result of the Police shooting of the workers in 2012
Joining Shramabimani in the planning and implementation of the protest against the Colombo Port City, a development project that is going to be an environmental disaster and planned in a very undemocratic manner without any reference to the citizens of the land.
Supporting the WOMEN’S NETWORK, (Mothers and Daughters of Sri Lanka) to build up pressure on the government to appoint a Women’s Commission.
Fr. Sarath’s animation of the Janawaboda Kendraya (JK) team in Negombo takes place on Thursdays. The main concern is to organize the marginalized communities in Negombo who are struggling to get LAND FOR HOUSING. In the decade of 1980s, JK was able to mobilize people without shelter to get 74 acres of land to put up houses. Subsequently, about 600 houses were built in Kadolkele with the finances received from the National Housing Authority. There are hundreds of more families even now still struggling to receive land for their members.
JK has an enriching experience in mobilizing people’s power. As such Fr. Sarath is engaged with JK in a long term strategy to build a NATIONAL MOVEMENT FOR A JUST WORLD. The activists from Gampaha, Colombo, Matara, Kalutara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee are participating in this task. Fr. Sarath participates in their leadership training programmes held twice a year for the leaders from different districts. Recently JK made an enormous effort to get the patient-friendly NATIONAL DRUG POLICY passed in the Parliament, which had been resisted for many years by the large multi-national drug companies.
Fr. Sarath works closely with the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM) in their concern for the unresolved post-war issues of PEOPLE IN THE NORTH AND EAST of Sri Lanka, Fr. Terence from Vauniya who regularly attends the CSM meetings, shares information about the situation in North.
One of the recent activities of the CSM has been a workshop on the situation of the PLANTATION LABOURERS in the central hill country. Following that, the CSM made an appeal to the Sri Lanka Bishops’ Conference requesting them to pay attention to the plight of those workers. Currently discussion is also on-going with Fr. Benett of the Anuradhapura diocese, to have an exposure programme for CSM members on the issues of the farmers in the North Central province, mainly into the kidney disease epidemic spreading in that area.
Networking and Other Activities:
In 2014 Fr. Sarath joined the network convened by MONLAR (Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform), on the issue of the SEED ACT. He attended several planning meetings held in Colombo and also one in Eppawala Temple which took two days. A protest march to the Ministry of Agriculture also took place to hand over a petition to stop the Seed Act. The Seed Act if implemented will undermine the independence of the farmers. A meeting to educate the Major Superiors on this issue was also held. An island-wide Caravan was held for four days to educate the general public. Fr. Sarath attended its programmes for two days held at Murungan, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura, Eppawala and Dambulla. The Caravan was brought to a climax with a large protest march in Colombo on the 26th of October 2014.
Another network activity that Fr. Sarath is involved with is the promotion of the idea of a PEOPLE’S MOVEMENT. Basically the idea is advocated that at this moment of history in Sri Lanka, nothing much can be achieved through the political parties. As such, the aim is to mobilize citizens to develop a wider People’s Movement as a challenge to the politicians and state power, to make them accountable to the people of the country